Mexico's strong break puts them back atop the CONCACAF Power Rankings
With the Gold Cup just three months away, time is of the essence for the nations of CONCACAF who are seeking to go into the tournament on a high. The first FIFA international dates of 2015 are in the books, so it's time to revisit the ESPN FC CONCACAF Power Rankings.
El Tri move up to the top spot of the CONCACAF Power Rankings after ending 2014 in second. Miguel Herrera's squad collected dual 1-0 wins during the break over Ecuador and Paraguay, and fans got glimpses of what Mexico's Gold Cup and Copa America squads will look like this summer.
Most importantly for Mexico, however, was that they kept a clean sheet in both matches. The defense still has some doubts, notably Diego Reyes' struggles against Ecuador, but limiting the two South American sides will give Mexico a boost. While Mexico's long-ball tactics against Ecuador were puzzling, one can only think that the likes of Hector Herrera and perhaps even Jonathan dos Santos will have a major say in whether Mexico will earn regional honors this summer.
2. Costa Rica
Costa Rica's run as top dog comes to an end after their 2-1 defeat at Panama. The Ticos failed to find the back of the net in a 0-0 home draw versus Paraguay, and even though Mexico boss Miguel Herrera last week called Paulo Wanchope's side the "Giant of CONCACAF", Costa Rica fall down a spot in the rankings. Nevertheless, there is no reason why the Central Americans cannot make a run at the Gold Cup title. After last summer's World Cup, Costa Rica are now a side of which much is expected. Can they cope with the pressure?
3. United States
It has not been pretty for Jurgen Klinsmann's team since Brazil, but there were a few glimpses in Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Switzerland. The U.S. were far more composed than in many of their previous meetings, and it was refreshing to see the midfield string passes together. However, the lapses in defense continue to create angst for the U.S. faithful, notably the gaffes from John Brooks and Timmy Chandler, which seem to be a recurring problem. Yet just when people think the U.S. is doomed, they go on a run. It remains to be seen if that will happen this summer.
The Reggae Boyz are on a hot streak with five straight wins, including 3-0 over Cuba and 2-1 over Venezuela in the last week. With the addition of the Houston Dynamo's Giles Barnes and the good form of Darren Mattocks, Jamaica are starting to pour in the goals. Like Mexico, Jamaica will be competing in the Copa America, which should only benefit the islanders prior to the Gold Cup.
The FIFA international break was kind to Panama, as Hernan Dario "Bolillo" Gomez's side collected a 1-0 win at Trinidad and Tobago and then a confidence-building 2-1 win over Costa Rica. The Canaleros dominated the first 45 minutes and then managed to fend off a late charge from Costa Rica. The future is also bright for Panama after their runner-up performance at the CONCACAF under-20 Championships, and it would not be a surprise to see many of those youngsters blend in with veterans like Blas Perez and Luis Tejada at both the Gold Cup and during the 2018 World Cup cycle.
Canada move into our Hexagonal thanks in part to a 1-0 win over Guatemala, which previously occupied the sixth position. Canada continue to improve under Spanish coach Benito Floro, who is unbeaten against CONCACAF competition, with two wins and three draws. The way things are going, Canada could well be the Cinderella story at the Gold Cup.
Ones to watch
Guatemala: Ivan Sopegno's group were unable to muster a goal in their two friendlies, a 1-0 defeat to Canada and a 0-0 draw with El Salvador, but overall the Chapines were the more dangerous of the two sides in the meeting against their Central American rivals. Guatemala will be worth watching at the Gold Cup.
El Salvador: It was basically mission impossible for El Salvador against Argentina, but give credit to Albert Roca's side for fighting bravely in a 2-0 loss. Maybe it was the toll exacted in trying to stay with Argentina that hampered their effort against Guatemala on Tuesday in the 0-0 draw in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, Roca is hard at work to return El Salvador to the Hexagonal.
Honduras: The good news for Honduras is that they qualified for the Gold Cup. The bad news for Catrachos fans is that it took a bit of suffering and a comeback against French Guiana to do it. Jorge Luis Pinto saw his team lose their playoff first leg 3-1 in shocking fashion, but thanks in large part to an Andy Najar brace, Honduras won the return leg 3-0 and qualified for the tournament, albeit under rather inauspicious circumstances.